Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finding Strength

"We can either watch life from the sidelines, or actively participate. Either we let self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy prevent us from realizing our potential, or embrace the fact that when we turn our attention away from ourselves, our potential is limitless."
- Christopher Reeve

The motto of Spaulding Rehab Hospital where I go for twice weekly Aquatics Therapy classes is Find Your Strength.

When I first walked through the doors of the Spaulding Rehab Framingham Outpatient Clinic, I was terrified, overwhelmed and had no idea what was wrong with me or how I was ever going to find my strength.

It's been over 7 years now since I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome. During these past 7 years I discovered that the years of dissociating from my body as a result of contracting paralytic polio at the age of 5 followed by 9 years of unrelenting trauma, took a toll on me mind, body and Spirit.

The first step I took in finding my strength was surrender. I had to surrender to my body as it was and then slowly work to find my strength. The first return of strength did not come with strength of body; it came through strength of Spirit as I started writing poetry. I felt a spark of life begin to flicker. I fanned its flames by having pen and paper with me at all times to allow Spirit to speak even though my body was weak and deconditioned from years of abuse and neglect.

Slowly, with the help of Allison Lamarre-Poole, a phenomenal physical therapist at Spaulding Outpatient Clinic in Downtown Boston, I began to build my physical strength.

I found the strength to walk away from my award winning VA social work career just three years shy of retirement age.

After being discharged from outpatient rehab, I hired a personal trainer. That's when building physical strength took on a whole new meaning for me. From my memoir, Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility:

"After our session, I felt muscles I had no idea existed in my body. I remember barely being able to get up after our plane landed. Despite the pain, I knew that I was on the right path. I decided that if I were going to hurt, I may as well hurt on the side of getting healthy. I couldn’t listen to the admonishment of if you use it you will lose it. I had to believe in my body’s capacity for healing. I had to have faith. As I went through the rigors of personal training, there were moments of incredible doubt. During those times, Janine held enough faith for the two of us."

While the initial spark to set foot on a healing path and find my strength had to come from within me, without the support of my family, my therapists, my trainer and then the running community, I would never have come off the sidelines to train for and cross the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon. My beloved coach and trainer Domenick D'Amico promised to get me to the starting line healthy and to the finish line with a smile. He told me he never doubted that I would be able to accomplish the goal I declared in February 2008 although I had never run a day in my life.

Every day, I find my strength mind, body and Spirit to live and thrive with the late effects of paralytic polio and a history of trauma. I challenge myself to dig deep and build strength in aquatics classes and in my runs. I experiment and I play around with finding my edge. The physical is the outward manifestation of the spiritual strength it takes for me to experience a sense of beauty and strength in spite of or maybe because of all that I have experienced.

My journey is not just about me though. I love supporting and being a cheerleader for others as they find their strength and dare to not allow anything that life has thrown their way to sideline them. Just as others held faith, support and encouragement for me when I wasn't sure what was possible, I now let others know my powerful message of healing, hope and possibility so they can find their strength.

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